Spiritual dancer

A political scientist by training, Gilles Chuyen settled in Delhi 24 years ago in pursuit of his passion – dance. It soon became the ‘medium’ of his spiritual quest

French national Gilles Chuyen has lived for 24 years, exactly half his life, in Delhi. He wears many hats, is a dancer, choreographer, actor, director, writer and painter. These are a means to his eternal quest, as he describes himself a ‘seeker.’ He holds a doctorate degree in political science — Who is Brahmin? The Politics of Identity in India — being the topic of his thesis. But “being onstage performing” gives him greatest happiness.

Dance is not just a few steps set to a beat but a spiritual retreat for him. Here he has experimented with Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and pursued training in Chhau Mayurbhanj, yoga and meditation, he isn’t an orthodox dancer. His dancing doesn’t conform to any description, can’t even be labelled as ‘contemporary’. “Just call me a dancer,” he demands.

Growing up in a village nestled in one of the most beautiful parts of the world in Southern France, he was drawn to spirituality from the early years of his life. Gilles started teaching dance when he wasn’t even 10 years old and was trained in France in Provence’s folk dance, ballet, modern jazz and contemporary dance styles during his adolescence.

Dance became the love of his life, but there was something that he wanted to know, a quest. “There were lot of questions — questions about life, what’s the meaning of life, my mission in life, God. I was seeking,” he explains. His arrival in India as a research scholar in 1994 at the age of 24 was not planned. He later assisted the director of French Embassy’s research centre. By the turn of the century, he finished his doctoral thesis and there was no official reason to stay in India.

During his initial years in India, his spiritual quest led him to many gurus, some of them have had a profound impact in his life — like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Gurudev of Karmic Research Centre, Rita Ma from Surat and some more. “Their teaching complements and are not in conflict,” says Gilles. When he was confronted with the knotty question whether to stay in India or go back to France, Gurudev made it simple for him. “What makes you happy?” he asked Gilles. “I’m happiest when I’m performing on the stage,” Gilles replied. “Where’s the confusion?” retorted Gurudev. This was the year 2000, a new beginning in Gilles’s life.

He was certain that didn’t want to be a professor but found spiritual solace by way of his performances. Dance was the most potent tool. Gilles describes his stay in India as “a great journey” and dance is the medium through which he gets answers to quest — “What’s life, what it can be, what it can offer?”

“Dancing is dialogue with self,” he says. That may seem at odds for stillness is what brings people in touch with their inner reaches, and dance is all about motion. “True meaning of dance is to find stillness,” replies Gilles and adds, “When I’m whirling fast, I get this great sense of being connected to the inner pillar of stillness.”

Gilles institutionalised his passion in 2007 by founding the dance company In Step. The core idea behind this initiative is to ‘devise channelled pieces on the energies of colours, Nature and speaking of the inner path. Dance is the medium for healing, self-empowerment.’ Also, he continued to perform and choreograph events of the corporate and fashion worlds in India and abroad. He has done intensive research on the physicality of emotions and has choreographed more than 40 plays and musicals. He is one of the very few credited with popularising ‘Bollywood dance style’ worldwide and has travelled to the US, Colombia, Mexico, Sweden, the UK, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Israel, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Russia, China, Japan and a host of other counties to perform. He’s also a guest faculty at the National School of Drama.

Dance to glory: At the core of Gilles dancing is stillness, he likes to paint before performing. Photo: gilles

A teetotaller and a vegetarian, he meditates and practices yoga every day. He lives in South Delhi with his Indian partner and the latter’s mother. “All my friends are Indian,” he says. Fluent in Hindi, he hardly interacts with the thriving French community residing in Delhi. He has lived in many localities in the last two decades of his stay and was in various relationship that he’s not keen to talk about in public. “Sexuality is just one part of one’s character,” he says.

His core, however, was driven by his spiritual quest. In the years that went by, he never felt lonely. Drawing a distinction between ‘loneliness’ and ‘aloneness’, he says, “Meditation connects me to everything around me. I never feel lonely.” Dance is an abstract language, it helps him express his inner feelings.

Lately, he is exploring ‘Shiva-Shakti’—the masculine, passive, transcendent, eternal principle is Shiva while the feminine, active, immanent, temporal principle is Shakti. “It’s about energy and vibrations,” is how Gilles associates with this concept. And before he performs he likes to paint his inner feelings on a canvas. His paintings are abstract, colourful, infused with divine vision. He is voracious reader, likes to read classics, books set in historical context. Among hundreds of his performances was a solo dance-theatre performance Orlando, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, in 1999.

Gilles’s connection with his native country France has blurred over the years; he lost his mother three years ago and hasn’t even travelled to France in the last two years. When he travels to France, it takes him a while to get used to life, people and even language. “(I get a) slight headache listening people speak French,” he says. Future plan? He doesn’t have one but promises to listen to his heart.

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